Recipe: Sarah’s Umami Roast

This weekend is a blur of activities.  Baby showers, birthday parties, house projects and design clients filled up my day.  Collectively, everything I have consumed from Friday night through Sunday night came from (A) Starbucks, (B) Trader Joe’s and (C) Walgreens.  Fortunately, I received an email from my friend and fellow blogger Sarah S. about the fantastic dinner she made on Saturday night for her family.  I was simply impressed that Sarah cooks on a Saturday and two that she cooked a roast…neither of which I have done in a long time.  Combine it with the fact that the recipe Sarah created is super easy and according to her family, super delicious to boot.  I can say this with 100% conviction that if Sarah’s family consisting of several finicky toddlers and adolescent eaters declared this recipe a winner, then I am positive you will too!  In any case, I will let Sarah tell you about this winner of a recipe……

How delightful the smell of sautéing onions and garlic is on a cold Saturday afternoon.  This beef roast is something you can start right after lunch time and have ready for a 7:00 dinner with family and friends. Set the table with something rustic and fun, wear lounge clothes whose best quality is their comfort (okay, and there is some seriously cute loungewear), put on some classic R&B (really, think 1960’s and 70’s) and open a nice red wine that is full-bodied and still sweet.

Add to that environment this umami roast, and you have a wonderful combination.  Umami refers to the flavor.  It is one of the basic tastes and refers to the meaty savoriness in a dish.  This combination of the creamy potatoes, slightly rich gravy, and tender meaty beef roast touches directly on the umami taste that brings to mind midwest comfort food at its best.

This is not a refined roast that is sliced to serve.  It falls apart at the touch of a fork.  The vegetables should retain their form and presence but are soft enough to slice through with just the tines.


Saturday Afternoon Umami Beef Roast with Mashed Potatoes


Finished Umami Roast....


3-3.5 lb organic beef chuck roast (1/2 lb per person should leave a bit of leftovers)

1 Vidalia onion, rough sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Approximately 18-24 baby carrots, whole

3 stalks of celery, 2 inch pieces.  Finely chop the rinsed leaves and use.

1 Quart  mixed vegetable and beef base/ broth/ or any variation thereof

Olive Oil

Kosher Salt and Fresh Pepper

1 Bay Leaf

dash nutmeg

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp dried rosemary

Gravy (recipe follows)

Served with Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes (recipe follows)


To Cook the Roast


Roast Ingredients


Remove roast from refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to cooking.  Bringing it to room temperature will help create a tender roast.  Rinse, pat dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides and set to the side.

Saute onion and garlic in 1 Tbsp olive oil (dutch oven works great) on medium until slightly translucent.  Season with sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper.  (I season each layer of ingredients for the best flavor.)  Turn heat to Medium/ Medium High.  Move onions to the side of the pot and add roast.  Brown on each side approximately 4-5 minutes.

Add herbs to stock, and add stock to pot, just barely covering the roast.  Check for necessary salt.  Turn heat to Low, cover and cook for 4-5 hours. This recipe can also go in the oven on 275 degrees.

After cooking roast for 4-5 hours, add chopped vegetables, season, check fluid levels to barely cover all vegetables, cover, and cook for 1 hour.  Vegetables should be cooked through without being mushy.  Remove bay leaf before serving.


Juice from Roast (visible fat skimmed off)

1/3 C flour

1 Tbsp half n half

Salt and Pepper to taste

Remove vegetables and meat, cover with foil and set to the side or in warm oven.  Turn the heat up to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.  Remove 1/2 Cup of liquid and put in mixing bowl.  Add flour and whisk.  Add more liquid to thin it out.  (You are making a slurry).  Feel free to substitute cornstarch if that is your preference.

Whisk slurry to juices on medium heat. Add another sprinkling of rosemary if you want to strengthen the flavor.   Cook flour through, whisking every minute or so, approximately 15 minutes, and you will see it thicken slightly.  This is not a thick cream-style gravy.  It is a drizzling gravy to add moisture and flavor, and is intended to complement the meat and potatoes without drowning.  The more you cook it, the richer the gravy.  If you want to extend this out to 20 or 30 minutes, be my guest.  Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk in half n half and reduce heat to low.  Cook for just a few minutes.  Check seasoning.

Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes

5 lb bag of potatoes

1 C half n half (1 and 1/2 if you like them looser)

3/4 Stick of Butter (6 Tbsp)


Remove peel and chop potatoes.  Boil for approximately 20 minutes.  Strain.

Heat half n half and butter on low, just until heated through.

Add potatoes to a ricer if you have it, or whip them with a mixer if you don’t.  If you use a ricer, the potatoes will release less starch and you will get a pure potato flavor without starchiness. That combination of butter, half n half and the non-starchy potatoes is blissful.

Add half n half, butter, salt.  Mix together with a wooden spoon until just blended.

To Serve

Roast will pull apart with a fork.  A long fish plate works great for serving.  Add beef to center 2/3 of the plate, add vegetables to the ends.  Serve with a gravy boat of gravy and a bowl of potatoes.  This is the perfect meal to place on a buffet next to the table and allow the guests to serve themselves.  I would serve it with fresh-from-the-oven bread (maybe a rosemary garlic) with some softened butter.

A glass of red wine evens this out completely, and the only thing that would make it better is a rustic vanilla ice cream with a fresh caramel sauce or blueberry compote.  Mmmmm.  Delightful.

And don’t forget to use the leftover gravy and meat as a stew base.  Truly great.

Based on a 5 spoon scoring system:

Complexity: 3.5 spoons

Difficulty: 2 spoons

Flavor: 5 spoons

A big thanks to Sarah for sharing this recipe and on a side note, I adore her spoon rating system!


The Journey Is At Times More Important Than The Outcome….

Last night’s class opened up a can of “whoop a**” on me.  From the knife cuts (fluted mushrooms and tourne potatoes), the dishes we cooked for presentation (glazed beets, braised cabbage, duchesse potatoes) to kitchen clean-up (we stayed until 9:30pm cleaning) it was a stressful situation (in my opinion).  Over the last three months, I have had highs and lows in my affinity for culinary school and have  seriously doubted everything from my ability as a chef to my aptitude for remember information. My first day in this new course brought back all the feelings of inadequacy I felt the first time I stepped into the kitchen two months ago.

I have a tendency to psych myself out and to over-analyze situations — in essence, I scare the crap out of myself for no good reason.  This self-created anxiety is one of the issues I work with my counselor with because it tends to block progress in my case.  Modern psychology states that small amounts of stress are good for running at peak levels of productivity. I am unique that the thought of stress actually creates unhealthy amounts of stress.  I find it amusing that my classmates are always complimenting me on my calm demeanor in the kitchen.  It isn’t that I am calm at all — on the inside I am doing cartwheels but I know that if I don’t focus and try to control the internal chaos, it will have detrimental effects.  Once rolling, the stress compounds and that is when you find me a sweaty mess talking to myself in the corner or angrily yelling at my classmates over small things.  Neither is a good scenario, hence why I try hard to go in every day with a game plan and really not get too shaken up.

Because of this tendency, I often get lost in the moment.  For some that is a state they aspire to embrace but for myself it’s something I avoid. Many times in my life, I get caught up in the here and now, but never look at the path I am have or the journey as a whole.  As I get older, I am appreciating life as a whole rather than compartments. Yet, somehow this “whole perspective” is not translating to culinary school – this is a journey I need to remember because it has informed me about some much regarding myself. In life we can take many different roads, but those roads we take, well in particular, the road I have taken, I need to pay attention.  Yeah, sometimes we deviate or go off path – but that is the beauty of a well-lived life.

Last night, as I laid in bed exhausted, I thought of the poem by Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”. I memorized it in elementary school for a contest and still remember it to this day, considering I can’t remember my Mom’s birthday, it’s no small feat.  Little did I know that some 20 plus years later, it would have such new meaning to me……

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I Need to Watch Finding Nemo to Atone For My Sins Against Fish ……

Today is the last day of Fish Fabrication. I have tasted caviar, slaughtered countless squids, sliced my way through a school of mackerel and become Public Enemy #1 to rock cod.  I danced the tango with multiple bi-valves and sent many crabs & lobsters to a steamy death.  I smell like a fisherman.   I saw things that have made me swear off fish for a long time to come.  But I am done!

But honestly, lets go back to the horrible things we learned about fish.   For example, did you know that parasites, in particular worms, are a normal occurrence in many large fish such as swordfish?  And lets not forget the various illnesses you can get from seafood…..scrombroid, cigutera, and the various toxic fish poisons.  It  makes me think that Red Lobster could be the deadliest place on earth…..


Aka “The Fish Gaunlet of Death”


Aside from my fear of seafood, the fish fabrication class went much better than the meat fabrication course.  While we had the same instructor, this time around he definitely loosened up and I think in turn had a huge impact now only on the class but me personally.  I tend to clam up during stressful situations and with the mood being considerably lighter in the kitchen, I found myself much more relaxed and receptive to information in class.  I think everyone’s personalities really are starting to shine and it’s really great.

We basically cut and fabricated anything with gills in this course.  I got my hands on trout, skate, squid, clams, lobster and about 10 other things when it was all said and done.  It was an encyclopedic run through our world’s oceans and all that is fit to eat.  Since I rarely cooked with fish, seeing all the various kinds of seafood and how to prepare them was really interesting and a little intimidating, but I really enjoyed it.

Again, let me thank my team for an awesome class.  Without these all-stars, I really do think I would have had a harder time.  We stuck together, kept each other’s backs and in general were our own personal cheerleaders.  Each of them are true class acts.  Jed – your dry sense of humor always provided the perfect way to break an awkward moment.  Alex – you are a leader that motivates by example whether you know it or not.  Rob – thank you for keeping it real and never failing to make us laugh.  Gabe – while you deflated my ego once or twice, it was always to build me up.  Thank you for letting me look over your shoulder repeatedly and never letting the team get too full of themselves.

Here is a stroll down memory lane…….


Alex with a very tiny fillet I just cut....



My first victim....I called him Fred.

Tory hard at work removing fish cheeks.....


The remains of my mackerel......

Doling out our victims....


Shellfish Buffet....never want to shuck oysters again!

Variety of US and European caviars......

Caviar Parfait.....

Starchy deliciousness to put the caviar on.....

Octopus....which I realized has a great purple color and a horrible texture.....


Ok, I am off to take the final!  Wish me luck……

Keeping it Real in the Kitchen

The kitchen is all about hierarchy, but at times, the structure that is set up to help run the kitchen efficiently creates what I call Little Kitchen Dictators (LKD).  My class now enters into our Seafood Identification and Fabrication course where we slice, dice and fillet our way through the underwater world.  I am not sure what happened, but today I saw the first inkling of LKDs in our cohort and it concerns me.  I may just be hyper-sensitive as I have been having a struggle with finding my confidence in the kitchen and may be projecting.  But I swear, I saw little things and heard snide comments that may be think twice.  I hope for all of  our sakes, that we don’t lose the magic and keep the commanderies.  I really want out our teaching kitchen to be a…..

So leave the drama for your Momma.  Leave the attitude at the door.  Ain’t no divas in this kitchen unless we are talking about Aretha singing R-E-S-P-E-C-T (add in head swivel and finger wag for extra emphasis).  However, I think my team is going to be great this go round.  I lucked out and got some awesome guys – I consider myself blessed as I think I can learn alot from each of them. 

Robert, Jeb, Alex, Gabe — you all are my boys and I wish each of us a fantastic 7 days of seafood fun.  But just know, if y’all get sassy with me …..


I may be quiet and reserve but I keep it real in the kitchen.

Meat Ab Fab…..

I have survived a week and a half of meat fabrication and identification.  I feel like I have run the “Protein Gauntlet” having hacked, sliced and cut my way through poultry, beef, lamb, pork, veal and sausage.  As a rough estimate, we have processed and fabricated close to half a ton (1ooo lbs) of flesh making everything from Frenched racks of veal to beef roasts to airline chicken breasts to forcemeats.  The sheer amount of information thrown at us combined with being in the kitchen from 2:00 – 8:30pm every day proved to be challenging.  I came home every night wanting to collapse into bed.  Fortunately reeking of raw meat is a major motivator for not falling asleep with your clothes on. Overall,  I can’t honestly say that I am any better at butchering than when I started the class.  However, I do have a deeper respect for the proteins that take up the majority of the American plate every day.

I leave this class with mixed feelings because while I am more knowledgeable about meat, I am now more wary of the kitchen.  I never quite felt 100% in the kitchen; never at ease and never quite myself which I think showed in my work.  I was not confident and my nerves got the better of me more often than not.  For the life of me, I couldn’t remember things and identifying the various cuts of meat proved a challenge.  The final was a bit gut wrenching since there was an identification portion of the exam and I blanked.  It was as if all the angst I felt in the last week all went to my head and wiped my memory clean.

I was anxious and apprehensive for much of  my time in the kitchen which has me thinking hard about my future.  One of the reasons I considered cooking as a second career was because I always enjoyed the quiet calm that came with me being in the kitchen.  It was a place where I felt safe and centered.  In the kitchens at school I feel overwhelmed and lost.  My heart pounds,  my mind races and insecurities (real and imaginary) boil up.   I feel weak and incapable.  It’s horrible and  I am hoping that what I am feeling is due to an unfamiliar setting and working with people I don’t know well.   With any luck it will pass as I spend more time with both and I will get back to my happy state of “kitchen zen”.

The stress I was feeling in the kitchen was no fault of my team who I found to be quite enjoyable and supportive.  Rodney,  Matt, Scott and Molly – thank you for dealing with my constant questions and for allowing me to peer over your shoulders.  Those small gestures saved my sanity multiple times and I appreciate it.

As mentioned, my team had one of only three girls in my cohort, Molly.   I consider myself lucky to have worked with Molly and have developed a deeper respect for her as a person and leader.  When you first meet her, she strikes you as a quiet person….what my Grandmother would call a “mousy” girl.  However, I saw her repeatedly shut down members of our class with just a sentence.  She stood her ground and made her thoughts known, but never in a loud or bossy way.  She was assertive without being pushy.  It was actually really quite awesome to watch because so often the people she interacted with never realized that they weren’t getting their way until after the situation which I believe is a testament to Molly’s quiet will.

For the most part, my cohort came together as a team and delivered.  I am proud of us and what we have accomplished so far.  I hope that we can continue the unity and build on it.  Here are a few candid shots from our week and a half of meat fabulousness……


Twisting sausages...needless to say the words "meat", "sausage", "big", "fat" and "hand" were used extensively in multiple combinations....

The "meats" of our labor....breakfast links.


Raw Porchetta (Roasted Pig Belly)



Cooked Porchetta.......delicious crispy swine goodness......



Me in my chef whites....can you say buffet worker at Ye' Old Country Buffet?



My cohort .....a gaggle of future chefs......



Cooking up tasty meat scraps...aka Scooby Snacks



Working the line......


And Let the Cutting Begin…..

Today is my first day of Meat Fabrication, which is a really fancy way of saying butchering.  As it should be no surprise, I am quite nervous especially since this will mark my first official day in the Teaching Kitchen (aka the “TK”).   So for the next 7 days, I will be slicing, cutting and sawing my way through various pieces of beef and fowl. 

Got Beef?

Graphic Credit:


I don’t know what to do with my free time at moment, since class does not begin until 2:00pm.  Fortunately, this will change when our Interpersonal Communications class starts on the 14th — yup, the CIA wants to be sure that not only are we good chefs, but we are good communicators as well.  So I am curious what that class will be like since the art of communication is not necessarily something I have found be central in most kitchens.  Screaming and cursing, yes.  The art of constructive feedback, not so much.

And a final note, after many requests, I will post my first “official” picture of me in my full uniform, including the dreaded “stove-pipe” hat that makes me look like a failed Benihana chef.  I will post it some time this week, so let the snickering and laughing commence!

Here is to me keeping ownership and complete use of all my fingers……

Second Block Is Over…..

I am now a little over a month into my journey with the Culinary Institute of America and I am still at a loss on what I am feeling.  Actually, I take that back, I know exactly what I am feeling but am at a loss for what to THINK about what I am feeling.  The last three weeks have been a jumble of frustration directed at the school and more importantly at myself.  I still have not figured out what I am doing (or not doing) that fills me with such angst.  I liken the sensation to that of knowing about impending danger.  It’s that state of heightened awareness.   I have been dealing with it by delving deeper into my studies but more often than not, I lie comatose, unable to sleep as my mind spins.

Academically, this block was much easier than the last.  From 8:30-10:30am, I had my Product Identification course; basically a crash course in all things vegetable, fruit, spice, herb and diary.  We had a tasting every day that focused on a particular family/group of food.    We easily sampled over 100 different foods in 14 days ranging from milks/cheeses to potatoes to mushrooms.  While the class was informative to a degree, I wasn’t enthralled with it.  I found the instructor not be engaging.  For me, a class (or any learning environment) begins and ends with the instructor and for some reason this one didn’t grab me. 

I got the feeling that he was annoyed with the class.  I can’t quite place my finger on it, but it was almost as if the class’s mere presence was infringing on his time.  Aside from that, his presentations were canned from the CIA’s main campus in NY.  I don’t know the protocol or how much lead way he has to add his own flavor to courses, but I got the strong inkling that he did not prepare his own PowerPoint slides.   His lectures were actually read from notes a majority of the time and often did not match up to the course syllabus.  Maybe I am expecting too much or my years at Stanford tainted my perceptions, but  I feel cheated. 

If I make the effort to read assignments, do my homework and come to class prepared I feel the instructor should do the same.   It’s frustrating to feel that an instructor views their interaction with a class as an afterthought — a necessary evil of the teaching process.  I can’t say with certainity, but I sense that many of the Chef Instructors at Greystone take the job to have a semblance of a normal life.  The grind of the kitchen wears a person down and the notion of a steady check with normal hours with minimal headache proves appealing.  I get the strong sense that the students are at the center of the educational equation at the CIA.

I would hope that anyone entering the teaching profession has a passion for sharing knowledge —  a spark — that drives them to educate others on what you love doing.  My best teachers weren’t the smartest nor the most gifted, but they sincerely wanted students to succeed, grow and prosper.   I didn’t see that from this instructor.  I may be wrong, and sincerely hope I am, because I have the same instructor for my next block of courses,  Meat and Seafood Fabrication. 

You know what this means?!?  Yuppers, I officially enter the kitchen come Monday.  This also means that I shift need to readjust my schedule since I am now in class from 2:30-8:30pm moving forward.  This new schedule is seriously going to cramp my mid-afternoon naps, but I also hope that it snaps me out of my funk since I will now be in my feet for 6-8 hours a day running around the kitchen.

My other course was Food Safety taught by Mr. F, a food safety professional in the Napa community.  He was the opposite of what my other instructor was regarding passion.  This man seriously loves food safety and all the horrors that go along with it.  This man has a personal story for every awful, gross, and vile thing you could get from food.  Botulism?  He has a story about a baked potato causing paralysis. 

Potatoes Kill!

Listeria?  A tale of a woman having a miscarriage due to a hot dog. 

Hot Dogs = Death

Salmonella?  A saga of an entire wedding party knocked to their knees due to bad chicken cutlets. 

Chicken Cutlets Can Take a Brotha Down!

From 11-2:30pm we were regaled with story after story of food safety gone awry.  Sadly, Food Safety straddled either side of our lunch break.  Needless to say, each day my class went into lunch paranoid, ill to our stomaches and horrified at the prospect of finding a band-aid in the salad bar or getting some horrible food borne illness.  However, in three weeks, I learned more about food safety, proper hygiene in the kitchen and cleaning protocols than I ever thought I would.  For that reason, I temper my annoyance that on the last day of class rather than review for our exam, we were treated to multiple YouTube clips of various cooking shows.  But even with that, I scored a 96% on my ServSafe Manager exam!  For that, thank you Mr. F……..

I enter my third block of classes unsure of where I stand with my CIA education.  I love my classmates.  They are a group that makes me smile.  When I walk into our classroom I am excited to see them.  I genuinely care for them in a way that I didn’t think I would and I think that bond will grow (albeit may be tested) as we enter into the kitchen.  Yet, everything else about my CIA experience strikes me as bland, flat or frustrating.  So I need to decide what motivates me and focus on that in this next block.  I just hope that whatever it turns out to be, it is enough to fuel me through two years.